Volume 79, October 2007: Employee Engagement

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2007 ISSN # 1545-8873

“The leadership challenge of the 21st century is to achieve outstanding and sustainable business results by creating conditions for employee engagement that bring forth the vast untapped human potential in organizations – the competitive advantage of our time.” — Tom Heuerman, Ph.D.

“What management needs to do to motivate people is to stop de-motivating them.” — W. Edwards Deming

“With every pair of hands you hire, you get a free brain.” — Ken Blanchard & Mark Miller

“Employee engagement is a concept that is generally viewed as managing discretionary effort, that is, when employees have choices, they will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests. An engaged employee is a person who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work” — Wikipedia


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Full attention to engagement in work.
  • Giving people meaningful work to do.
  • Replacing “invitation” to participate with “expectation.” *
  • Providing significant recognition.
  • Imagining better futures and higher quality of work life.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Estimates are that there are over 22 million workers in the U.S. alone, who are extremely negative or “actively disengaged.” This costs the economy between $250 and $350 billion per year in lost productivity. If you add injury, illness, absences, and fraud, the cost could surpass $1 trillion per year or 10% of the GDP. And these are only the “actively disengaged” -- excluding the “not engaged” (Rath & Clifton, 2004). What are you doing to encourage this disconnect?

Gratuitous attempts can be made to raise morale or curb negativity. But it is only through people’s full engagement with their work that quality, job satisfaction, and financial success can be achieved. Read on …

Frequently Asked Questions

“Why should we worry about engagement?”
Gallup data reported in Wagner & Harder (2006) and Krueger & Killman (2006) show that engaged employees are more productive, profitable, and innovative, miss less work, stay longer with their company, provide better customer service, steal less from their employers, and have fewer accidents than less engaged employees. Highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged counterparts by a whopping 20 – 28 percentage points. More engaged organizations out-perform the earnings-per-share of their non-engaged competitors by 18%.
Disengaged employees pull an organization down, and you, with it. They act out their discontent and sow the seeds of negativity. They undermine the work of others. They are not just indifferent; they are destructive. They scare off customers, they wreck quality, and they poison other employees. It doesn’t take many bad apples to spoil the barrel.
“How do you turn disengaged employees into engaged contributors?”
I attended a leadership conference recently (Vermont Oxford Network’s semi-annual meeting in Cambridge Mass., October 12, 2007), where Tim Porter-O’Grady * captured our minds with a fresh message: “Build expectation, not invitation” for empowerment and accountability. He gave us these thoughts:
  • Participation is a prerequisite of membership in the organizational community.
  • Be clear about expectations (if there is an exception or option, the option is the rule). There is no accountability if there is no consequence, whether reward or deficit.
  • Define the rules of engagement – i.e., this is how we will conduct ourselves.
  • Define what is aggressive vs. assertive.
  • Use the transformative nature of energy – negative energy is energy.
  • Structure participation. Find something helpful the disengaged can do, while you are making positive changes.

This message of expectation continually echoed through the conference, as a happily discovered insight.

“What leader behaviors build engagement and commitment?”
Ayers (2006) says that the focus on increasing engagement has failed because leaders think engagement can be bought through bonuses, benefits, and share options. The cure for the cancer of disengagement is for leaders to look in the mirror at the leadership they provide.
Employees who are not-engaged tend to feel that their contributions are being overlooked, and their potential is not being tapped. They do the minimum required because they don’t believe anyone cares.
Leaders need to focus on the skills, talents, and knowledge required in the job role, and how each person uniquely contributes to the overall mission. Take time to dialogue about an employee’s strengths and how they can make a difference. Then provide recognition, acknowledgement, and the freedom to do what they do well.
The other way that people become connected to an organization is through relationships. Employees who feel disconnected emotionally from their coworkers and supervisor do not feel committed to their work. So an additional strong emphasis needs to be on relationship-building.
On the whole, leaders can:
  • give people meaningful work to do, and provide the resources to do it
  • appreciate others, offering meaningful recognition and reward
  • listen
  • provide worthwhile growth opportunities (make staff employable)
  • distribute decision-making and power to the local point-of-service
  • ead with vision, value, mission (alignment)
  • be clear about expectations of accountability
  • provide feedback and guidance
  • define the rules of engagement
  • encourage team development
  • be optimistic and think win-win
  • act with integrity, telling the truth


Essential reading on employee engagement, with numerous links: Essential Reading.

Review of current research on employee engagement: Employee Engagement A Review of Current Research and Its Implications.

E-zine article on engagement: Increasing Employee Retention Through Employee Engagement.

Key Associates offers a course on the engagement skills required of leaders: The New Leadership.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Free download on how to improve employee engagement: Melcrum.

Employee engagement survey tools: Quantum Workplace and PeopleMetrics.

Keyzines on related topics: Motivation, Dealing with Difficult People, Organizational Culture, Optimism, and Cynicism.



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